William Burroughs interviews

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With William Burroughs: A Report from the Bunker (1982) by Victor Bockris. Design by Neville Brody.

If it’s interviews you want, some of the most entertaining are in Victor Bockris’s collection of conversations between El Hombre Invisible and the various New York notables ferried round to sit at Burroughs’ table in his Bowery Bunker. The British edition published by Vermilion was always preferrable for its Neville Brody cover design beside which the US original looks very dull indeed. The encyclopedic Burroughs site Reality Studio has copious lists of earlier Burroughs interviews. They also note the occasions when he put on his journalist hat and went out to interview someone equally famous, usually at the behest of a music magazine. A couple of those pieces are online thanks to the diligence of various fans.

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Diamond Dogs (1974), a blend of Lou Reed, George Orwell and William Burroughs.

One such is the 1974 interview with David Bowie for Rolling Stone in which Bowie discusses Burroughs as an influence while Burroughs informs the singer that the heroes of his latest novel, The Wild Boys, favour the Bowie knife as a weapon:

Bowie: Nova Express really reminded me of Ziggy Stardust, which I am going to be putting into a theatrical performance. Forty scenes are in it and it would be nice if the characters and actors learned the scenes and we all shuffled them around in a hat the afternoon of the performance and just performed it as the scenes come out. I got this all from you Bill… so it would change every night.

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A year later Burroughs got together with Jimmy Page for Crawdaddy magazine where the discussion circles around some of the same subjects, notably the writer’s obsession with sound as a weapon. There’s also this comment from Burroughs which is the kind of thing that always gets my neurons firing:

Antony Balch and I collaborated on a film called Cut-Ups, in which the film was cut into segments and rearranged at random. Nicolas Roeg and Donald Cammell saw a screening of the film not long before they made Performance.

Roeg later directed Bowie, of course, and is one of the dinner guests in With William Burroughs, while Jimmy Page and Donald Cammell both appear in Kenneth Anger’s Lucifer Rising. The connections go round and round… Read the whole piece in a post I made a few years ago at the late, lamented Arthur magazine site.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Soft machines
Burroughs: The Movie
William S Burroughs: A Man Within
The Final Academy
William Burroughs book covers
Towers Open Fire

Weekend links 45

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That essential journal of esoteric culture, Strange Attractor, announced a fourth number this week sporting a psychedelic cover which may be the work of Julian House (no credit is given on the SA site). As to the contents:

From Haiti and Hong Kong to the fourth dimension and beyond: discover the secrets of madness in animals; voodoo soul and dub music; ancient peacock deities; Chinese poisoning cults; the history of spider silk weaving; heathen mugwort magic; sentient lightning; Jesuit conspiracy theories; junkie explorers; Dali’s Atlantis; the resurgence of Pan (in London’s Crouch End); anarchist pirates on Madagascar; an ancient Greek Rip Van Winkle; French anatomical waxworks; Arthur Machen’s forgotten tales and Alan Moore’s unpublished John Dee opera.

Further details and the means to order a copy can be found here.

• Resonance FM’s Weird Tales For Winter has returned beginning with a presentation of The Gateway of the Monster, one of the better Carnaki tales by William Hope Hodgson. The story is read by Moon Wiring Club‘s Ian Hodgson (no relation) and the musical atmospheres are provided by The Advisory Circle. I ought to have posted this news yesterday since you’ll have missed the broadcasting of the first half but the second half will go out at midnight (UK time) on Monday. Details here, and the next release on the Café Kaput label in February will be the soundtrack, Music for Thomas Carnaki (Radiophonic Themes & Abstracts).

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• The Keep Calm and Carry On Image Generator lets you work your own variations on the ubiquitous poster. It wouldn’t work for me, however, so I rolled up my sleeves and made my own. This may be good as a CafePress design, yes?

Interplay is an album by John Foxx and The Maths due to be released on March 21st. As with last year’s collection of Foxx instrumental pieces, DNA, the package design is by Jonathan Barnbrook. John Foxx first came to prominence as the lead singer in Ultravox (do I need to say “of course”? Okay…“of course”) and Ultravox’s debut album was part-produced by Brian Eno. It’s been painfully obvious recently (and it pains me to say it) that Foxx’s DNA was a far more accomplished and engaging work than Eno’s recent collection of over-hyped instrumentals. Related: Barnbrook Design’s albums of 2010.

Word Horde 2.0, “a substantial archive of manuscript material, correspondence, and books and printed matter, mostly signed” from the William Burroughs archives can be yours for $260,000. Related: William Burroughs’ Wild Boys photos. Also: Rudy Rucker on David Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch.

• “Nabokov described how ‘a modern taxonomist straddling a Wellsian time machine with the purpose of exploring the Cenozoic era’ would encounter the following series of events in the evolution of these butterflies…” The Royal Society confirms that a contentious theory of Vladimir Nabokov’s concerning the descent of butterfly populations was accurate.

• The work of Gérald Bertot aka Thomas Owen, a Belgian author of weird fiction, is explored at A Journey Round My Skull.

The Other Side of the Wind, Orson Welles’ unfinished film from 1972, may finally be given a release.

• Jon Savage celebrates Roy Harper and his extraordinary Stormcock album.

Philip Pullman wants the Tory philistines to leave our libraries alone.

• Rick Poynor takes a dérive through the arcades of Paris.

Space music new and old.

Young Savage (1977) by Ultravox | Clicktrack (2010) by John Foxx & Jonathan Barnbrook.

Mark Twain

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Nikola Tesla and Mark Twain, 1894.

Mark Twain died 100 years ago today, April 21st, 1910, and the anniversary is being marked in America by a variety of events throughout the year, some of which are listed on this dedicated site. I’ve always been grateful to Twain for cheering a portion of my dismal school days with The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, one of two books we were forced to read that I actually enjoyed. (The other was Lord of the Flies; both stories, perhaps significantly, concern Wild Boys.) I’ve wanted to re-read Huckleberry Finn for years, perhaps now would be a good time to actually do so.

Unlike many writers of his generation, Twain’s work still seems vital today, and not only his fiction. His broadsides and polemics return continually to basic issues of tolerance and humanity and are often as relevant now as they were a century ago. Twain had little patience for the hypocrisies of his fellows when it came to matters of religion, warfare or the treatment of other human beings; like his contemporary, Oscar Wilde, he’s always been endlessly quotable. Consider these two extracts:

Citizenship? We have none! In place of it we teach patriotism which Samuel Johnson said a hundred and forty or a hundred and fifty years ago was the last refuge of the scoundrel—and I believe that he was right. I remember when I was a boy and I heard repeated time and time again the phrase, ‘My country, right or wrong, my country!’ How absolutely absurd is such an idea. How absolutely absurd to teach this idea to the youth of the country. True Citizenship at the Children’s Theater, 1907

But the truth is, that when a Library expels a book of mine and leaves an unexpurgated Bible lying around where unprotected youth and age can get hold of it, the deep unconscious irony of it delights me and doesn’t anger me. Letter to Mrs FG Whitmore, February 7, 1907

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…then wonder what Twain would have to say about America’s current crop of blustering yahoos with their flags and crosses and misspelled signs.

A copy of the first edition of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, illustrated throughout by EW Kemble, can be downloaded at the Internet Archive. For Twain’s dim view of the Bible and its adherents, see his Letters from the Earth. The Tesla Memorial Society has another photograph of Twain in the great inventor’s laboratory.

The art of Oliver Frey

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It’s inevitable when writing about gay art and artists that Oliver Frey’s name will turn up eventually, so here’s the requisite posting. Frey is often better known in gay circles under the nom de plume he used in the 1980s, “Zack”, when he was a very prolific illustrator and comic artist for Britain’s small number of gay mags. As Oliver Frey he was already well-known as an accomplished professional illustrator who was for a time an artist for Look and Learn‘s long-running science fiction adventure strip The Trigan Empire. That professional work makes him probably the most widely-seen of all gay porn artists simply because he drew some Superman pages which are briefly seen at the beginning of the 1978 Superman.

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His career as a comic artist honed his skill at dealing with figures and telling a story which is one of the reasons his gay strips are still highly valued today. Those strips tend to be completely pornographic right from the start so I’ll spare the delicate sensibilities of some of the readers here and link you to some collections of his Zack work instead. In the meantime, I’d love to know where the picture of the boy with the sword (above) comes from originally. It’s a lot more finished than his Zack drawings and is paired on this page with a similar picture of serpent-twined tribal youths which hints at some kind of Burroughs-esque Wild Boys scenario. If anyone knows the answer, please leave a comment. As it is, it makes a good addition to the Men with swords archive, as does the piece of fluff below.

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Update: As noted in the comments, original art by Oliver Frey/Zack is now available for purchase here.

Oliver Frey links:
Zack Art | official site.
Arrumako’s Gay Blog | A substantial collection of complete strips and sundry illustrations.
Daddy’s Here | More single illustrations and some magazine scans including an interview with the artist.
Gay Erotic Art Links | Another page with further links elsewhere.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The gay artists archive
The men with swords archive

The persistence of memory

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Ballard-for-kids from Lion (1970).

I was never a great hoarder of comics when I was a child, I usually read them then threw them away, so for years I’ve had peculiar half-memories of stories that thrilled me when I was 10-years old but whose titles I’ve invariably forgotten. The web, of course, serves to immediately answer desperately nagging questions such as “Who was the boy in a home-made catsuit climbing all over buildings at night?” (Billy the Cat, and sister Katie), “Which comic did bendable hero Janus Stark appear in?” (Smash and later Valiant), and so on.

British comics nearly always seemed stranger than American ones even though I was a regular reader of Spider-Man and a couple of other Marvel comics. Many of the British adventure titles—all long since expired—were created by artists and writers who drew freely on pulp traditions from the late 19th and early 20th century. Reading through histories of comics such as Lion it’s notable how many of the stories are set in the Victorian era. These tales were invariably hokey and certainly don’t bear much examination now but I can trace later interests back to an early stimulation by these odd strips.

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The evil Ezra Creech.

I’m actually surprised to discover that I was a regular reader of Lion, its list of characters is very familiar yet I don’t remember buying a single issue. Lion is significant for being home to one of my favourite strips of the period, the chilling horror/thriller The War of the White Eyes. I’ve yet to meet anyone who remembers reading this which used to be frustrating when I’d pester comic-collecting friends to try and recall which title it appeared in. The story was fairly standard adventure fare from 1972:

The War Of The White Eyes was a US-type fantasy strip which had our heroes, Nick Dexter and Don Redding, trying to thwart the evil megalomaniac, Ezra Creech, who was baying for world domination by inhaling a deadly gas that transformed him into a ‘White-Eyes’, a creature of superhuman strength and ferocity. At first, Creech wanted to destroy our heroes’ home island of Doomcrag and then go on to world domination, but guess who stopped him?

If you live in a place called Doomcrag you’re asking for trouble. I didn’t remember there being a super-villain involved although someone had to be responsible for raining the globes of deadly gas down on the populace.

Creech could turn people into white-eyed zombies under his control. He had superhuman strength as a White Eye. He later developed a ray that allowed him to make things grow, giving him the ability to create monsters.

JMB Chemicals developed a new gas as a mild insecticide. However it proved to have unforeseen side-effects. Men and animals exposed to it were transformed into killers of extraordinary strength and ferocity, recognisable by their white eyes. The first evidence of this came when a few glasses containers of the gas accidentally dropped from the back of a van transporting them through the peaceful English town of Wimbering. Those exposed demonstrated an innate hatred of anyone untainted, and set out to conquer the area and kill “the weaklings”. Even the army proved helpless, with White Eyes ripping apart tanks with their bare hands and throwing them around like toys. Even the White Eyes animals joined in, with contaminated birds attacking troops on the ground. It was only through the bravery and ingenuity of local boys Nick Dexter and Don Redding, and the scientist Timms who had developed the gas in the first place (and also concocted an antidote) that order was restored.

This was very much a horror strip for kids—at least as I remember it—with crazed, white-eyed people and animals going on the rampage, and the ever-present danger that our heroes could be infected themselves. The strip taught me very early on that the simplest way to make someone look evil was to blank out their pupils, something I spent the rest of the decade doing in drawing after drawing.

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Kid Chameleon takes off.

Another favourite was Kid Chameleon (not to be confused with a later computer game character) whose adventures appeared in my favourite comic of the time, Cor!!:

Stranded in the Kalahari Desert by a plane crash, a British boy is raised by lizards as a feral child, and weaves himself a skin-tight suit of transparent lizard scales which covers his entire body except the top of his head (to avoid the appearance of complete nudity, he also wears a pair of flesh-coloured briefs underneath). Only one strip shows how the suit comes off. It consists of two pieces: a top that opens at the front, and leggings. The suit allows him to camouflage himself like a chameleon by making the scales change colour, although how he does it is never explained.

Yes, I was eagerly reading about a near-naked boy when I was 10; make of that what you will. Kid Chameleon spent two years tracking down the man who caused the plane crash before returning to the desert and the company of the lizards. This strikes me as a very Burroughs-esque idea now, there being plenty of lizard boys and skin suits in Burroughs’ early novels such as The Soft Machine and The Ticket that Exploded. In many ways, Kid Chameleon isn’t far removed from the various incarnations of the Wild Boys—resourceful, shape-shifting and always a loner. By a curious coincidence Burroughs was in London writing Port of Saints, the sequel to The Wild Boys, at the time Cor!! was publishing Kid Chameleon.

There aren’t any pages online from The War of the White Eyes; perhaps that’s for the best, it would only shatter my vague memories even further. However, you can see a couple of pages from Kid Chameleon here, written by Scott Goodall. The strip was drawn by Joe Colquhoun, later the artist on Charlie’s War by Pat Mills.